Infrastructure on the small island of Puerto Rico has collapsed due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria. Homes and buildings are flooded, power and water systems have been severely compromised and food, drinking water, and fuel are in short supply. Anticipating the months it will take to rebuild schools and secure teachers and staff, many Puerto Rican families are facing the question of whether to send their children away in the meantime, to attend school in the U.S. or another country accepting storm refugees.
“That decision is very hard,” said Illeana Cintron from Holyoke Public Schools, a Massachusetts school district comprised 80 percent of students from tPuerto Rican descent. “It’s very complicated and very individual to each family, based on the sense of support that they feel they may have over here.”
It’s complicated for many reasons. For starters, less than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently. Schools also worry if they will be able to accommodate the complex needs of the new students, and late registration means schools will miss the window to apply for additional government funding.
The New York Department of Education recently released a statement, pledging “We want to be clear that New York City’s public schools are open to students in need, whether they arrive with or without documentation needed to register, such as a birth certificate that may have been lost in floods and chaos.” Additionally pointing out, “Being in the classroom keeps children safe and offers them stability during uncertain times.”
Red tape, re-homing, and funding aren’t the only concerns. Puerto Rico is facing brain drain, which began long before infrastructure collapse. Considering government debt and pension obligations amounting to more than $123 million, nearly 200 schools were forced to close their doors at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, reported the New York Times.
“Now, we’re going to see a generation of children and youth moving into the mainland in temporary places, to get an education, but you know what’s going to happen? They’re going to stay.” said Yanil Terón, executive director at the Center for Latino Progress.
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